AN ADDRESS BY J. D. ALLAN, ESQ.
Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto
April i9, 1917
MR. PRESIDENT AND GENTLEMEN,--You have set me the task of telling in half an hour about the commerce of a country that embraces one-seventh of the land surface of the world. People are more anxious now to hear about Russia than 20 years ago when I first began visiting that country.
It is characteristic of people generally when they go into a new country to measure everything by the plumb-line of their own civilization and judge everything by their own environment. Putting this test upon Russia would lead you far adrift in your conclusion. No one from this country can dare trust themselves with the conclusions arrived at on their first visit. Only by a series of visits can a perspective be formed which will do that country justice. I do not think, Russia was ever so black as she was painted in years gone by. Nor I do not think Russian prospects are so bright as the descriptions given today would indicate, but that is owing to the swinging backwards and forwards of the pendulum of human thought.
Russia has always been to me intensely interesting, and in extent almost terrifying. While the British Empire has a larger area in square miles, it is separated by oceans and seas and scattered over the entire world, Russia is a whole. You can start at Helinsfors and go to Vladivostock, over 7,000 miles; you can start from Archangel and go to Tiflis, 3,500 miles and you are all the time within the Russian Empire. It has always been a wonder to me how such a tremendous expanse of country, inhabited by such a variety of people with such a number of dialects could be successfully governed from one centre, and yet it has been.
Russia is a land of contradictions. Many things there are worthy of emulation; many other things you would just as soon avoid. The population of Russia is 80 or 90 percent agricultural and mostly peasants of not a very high order of intelligence; but remember that up until 1861 those people were serfs; the only difference between them and the American slave being that they were white. There were 4,000,000 of slaves in the south, whereas there were 47,000,000 in Russia. I have the most intense admiration for Alexander II. who freed the serfs. He was a man of noble principles and high ideals and would have worked out a magnificent future in Russia if he had not been slain by a Nihilist bomb, and no ruler has succeeded him with the same high aspirations.
These serfs are an important element in the agriculture of Russia, from which our own Province of Ontario has reaped benefits, Prof. Zavitz having shown that millions of dollars have been added to the returns of the farmers of this country as a result of bringing certain seeds, barley, oats, and wheat from Russia. The country has an area of 8,000,000 square miles, and a considerable portion of it south of the 59th north latitude is fit for cultivation. The finest creamery butter sold in London today is made on the Plains of Siberia. Scientific research as the Russians have adopted it in agriculture is something that we must copy. When I go out into our country districts and see how little is being done on the lines of advanced agriculture and hear the proud boast that we are the greatest country in the world, we swell out our breast in pride-if .we would look around we would discover that we have been measuring ourselves by ourselves, with the usual result that our measuring stick has been defective. The increase in the products of agriculture in Russia has been remarkable. The exports in 1895 were 608,000,000 roubles, and in 1911, 1,365,000,000 roubles. The total agricultural production in 1895 was 4 billion roubles, and in 1911, 9 billion roubles. Agricultural machinery imports in 1911, 57,500,000 roubles. Yet many people are surprised at such figures considering the latitude of that country. They have cold storage there in plants, on trains, on steamers and so on. I was surprised to find silk and cotton such important agricultural products. They grow 55% of the total cotton manufactured for their own use. The consumption of cotton is very heavy, for people wear it the year round. The way they overcome the cold is to keep the houses excessively hot inside.
In silk, Russia ranks sixth among the nations of the world.
In wool, the factories in 1910 used £20,000,000 worth, every fibre grown in Russia.
In 1910 Russia exported 275,000 tons of flax.
In linen yarn, Russia is second in the world in production; 400,000 spindles are at work in flax mills. The linen goods they make there are wonderful. When I first went to Russia in 1892, I bought some linen towels and they are still in use in my house--the finest we ever had, made in Russia from their own flax.
I have not time to go over the other agricultural products, but I may say that the appropriation for agricultural experimental work increased from 361,ooo roubles in 1908 to 2,100,000 roubles in 1912. Let Canada awake to the fact that our greatest need is a more intelligent system of agriculture than we now possess; and this can be arrived at only by imitating the Russians in experimental work.
If there is one thing that we in Canada should be ashamed of, it is the waste and worse than waste of our forestry products. Russia has an enlightened policy. They have 1,700 million acres of forest, all under one jurisdiction. The lumbermen must take off timber in the proper manner, must clean up the ground, and for everything he cuts down, he must plant tree for tree. That is in barbarous Russia; are we as civilized here compared with them?
When I first went to Russia, I could not have got on at all if I had not been able to speak the German language; but now that language is absolutely prohibited-and the regulation says it is for all time to come.
From the time of Queen Elizabeth till 60 years ago, the British merchants were predominant in Russia, and they were the financiers of Russian trade; but the Crimean War and political differences intervened, and from 1893 to 1909 the British exports to Russia increased only 8%, while Germany's exports increased 370%.
Russia has enough iron ore in the Ural Mountains to last more than 100 years after taking out 10,000,000 tons every year.
The leather trade in Russia is tremendous. The manufacture of leather in Russia alone, from their own tanneries, amounts to about $55,000,000 annually.
The production of rubber is about $5,000,000. The Russians are very thrifty, as you know after seeing what the Russian peddlers pick up around your houses. While in Russia I saw a pile of half-worn rubber overshoes at least 200 yards long and 25 feet high. They were to be sent to market to be made into bicycle tires. Rubber shoes when half worn out can be sold for about half the first price. These things show the Russian habit of thrift.
From the mines in the Ural Mountains or in the Caucasus the following materials and their products are extracted: copper, manganese, gold, silver, platinum, lead, zinc, tin, mercury, asphalt, naphtha, porphyry, malachite, coal.
Oil wells produce annually 96,000,000 barrels of oil.
There are extensive deposits of nickel in the Ural Mountains, but they have not been worked to any great extent because of lack of capital.
There are 536 iron ore mines in Russia, and the production of pig iron doubled in ten years.
Manufacturing was encouraged even by the autocratic government of Russia. Factories were started in all parts of Russia. The greatest iron and steel works were established in the south of Russia, at a place called Usofka, founded by an Englishman named John Hughes. There they pay 12,000 operators. The profits of that institution have gone as high as 25%. Profits in the manufacturing industry generally in Russia has averaged not less that 15% in spite of the zemstvo taxes, which are separate from the general tax, and in many cases goes as high as 50%.
The system of doing business at fairs grows out of the old system of barter. The Fair at Nizhni Novgorod was founded about 16oo, and the profits were given as a perquisite to the monks. It is continued as a means of bringing produce together and distributing it, though much of its importance has been lost owing to the completion of the Trans-Siberian Railway. At that Fair, from the l0th of June to the 7th of September, there was the most kaleidoscopic collection of humanity to be found on the face of the earth; and I believe I was the first one to go there from the Western Hemisphere. That place was selected for the Fair because it is the junction of the Volga and the Oka Rivers, the drainage from which has brought about the peopling of those vast plains which contribute their produce for interchange and barter.
Although the values of furs sold at that Fair runs into millions each year, that is about the smallest item at the Fair. When I went there first the values of all commodities actually sold varied from $300,000,000 to $500,000,000. The volume now is not so great, as goods go to Moscow.
Throughout Siberia there are 409 Fairs for the sale of everything-butter, cheese, tallow, etc. Any attendants at those fairs are the largest brokers in Russia, buying for foreign merchants.
There is a system of long credit in vogue in Russia. The shortest term is 12 months, and then renewal for another 12 months. Everything bought at Nizhni Novgorod must be settled by the l0th of September, either by note or cash.
When I spoke at this Club some weeks ago at the close of Prof. Mavor's address, I was asked what was the best book on Russia. One of the most correctly written and accurately recorded works that I have come across is "Russia of today" by John Foster Fraser, published by Cassell & Co. of this city. It is narrative in style and worth your while getting if you have not seen it.
As to Russia's finances, that country has never repudiated a loan, and under the new order of things, I do not think there is much danger of her doing so. The State revenue in 1908 was $241,780,000. In 1913 that had risen to £317,900,000. Under the Russian system they keep what they call a free balance to provide for contingencies, and in that year the free balance was £40,000,000 sterling.
There is another feature of immense hidden wealth in the monasteries of Russia that is not generally known. I had been going to Russia for years before I visited the Troitska Monastery, about 30 versts east of Moscow. There I got the surprise of my life in the matter of precious metals. In the days of serfdom that monastery had 106,000 slaves, and drew a land revenue from 500,000 people. In that monastery there were single frames of Ikons--that is, "Holy Picture"--worth a quarter of a million dollars; and the walls were literally plastered with diamonds and precious stones. I asked my friend what was the value of all these, and he replied, "If these were turned into cash, the value of what you see in this monastery would pay the national debt of Russia and the running expenses of the Russian Empire for 40 years altogether." And that is only one monastery.
I believe that one of the results of this war will be to make the change of government lasting in Russia, so that we will have the large-hearted Russian peasant, who has a lot of the milk of human kindness, lifted in the scale of humanity; and it may be that the return for all the sacrifices that the world has been called upon to make because of the mad ambition of one man will be the rejuvenating and re-glorifying of the world.
Canadians have a responsibility in connection with this war. Our sons have been killed in bringing about the results they have achieved. Let us see that we establish here a model state whose foundations shall be laid broad and deep, and that the chief corner stone will be one of character. Let us see that neither nation nor individual shall be allowed to depart from that high ideal. Then, even in spite of vacant places in our homes, we will feel that the sacrifice has in some measure been justified.
The Rev. Prof. Law moved a hearty vote of thanks to the speaker. This was seconded by Mr. W. K. George, and carried.